The death of George Habash and the prospects for the Palestinian left

Submitted by martin on 28 February, 2008 - 5:53 Author: An Israeli socialist

A month ago, the founder of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), Dr. George Habash, died in Jordan. Dr. Habash died of a heart attack. He was 82 years old.

Under the leadership of Dr. Habash, the PFLP constituted the radical wing within the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). The Front has been standing for a socialist, secular and democratic republic of Palestine, was influenced by the Stalinist bureaucracy in the Soviet Union and advanced pan-Arabic politics which was aiming at uniting the Arab masses along nationalist-secular lines.

However, Habash was not only a political activist, Thus, in September 1970, the PFLP captured four airliners, later blowing them up in front of the world's cameras, once the passengers had been removed. The PFLP also fired at Israeli aircraft and their crew, carried out bombings, and took hostages including, on one occasion, OPEC leaders meeting in Vienna. In July 1968 the group hijacked an El Al airplane en route from Rome to Tel Aviv.

The Habash family fled their home in 1948, when Israel was founded. Soon afterwards, Dr. Habash enrolled at the American University of Beirut where he studied medicine. From an early age, politics was his passion. Inspired by the anti-imperialist, "socialist" and nationalist politics of the Egyptian president, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Dr. Habash believed for many decades that only unity between the Arab states could create the conditions for the liberation of Palestine.

Habash was regarded by his opponents as nationalist and adventurist; others considered him as socialist and revolutionary.

In May 1972, he brought together members of the Irish Republican Army, the Baader Meinhof Group, and the Japanese Red Army for a meeting at a refugee camp in Lebanon. In the same month members of the PFLP and the Japanese Red Army murdered 26 people at Israel's international airport in Lod city.

In 1976 the PFLP and the Baader-Meinhof Group hijacked an Air France flight bound for Tel Aviv, landing the plane in Entebbe, Uganda. The siege only ended when Israeli commandos stormed the airport.

Objectively, the politics carried forward by Habash pushed the Israeli masses to the Right, defeated any attempt of socialist groupings like the Israeli Matzpen to gain influence, and led the Palestinians toward serious defeats so that when the PLO finally got the 1993 Oslo Accords, it did not achieve any promise from the Israeli leadership to get a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital city.

Nonetheless, Habash was always committed to secularism, sympathized the labor movement in each country, opposed fundamentalism and regarded the Israelis as equal citizens in his idealistic vision of one socialist and secular republic.

The PFLP rejected political compromise with Israel and continued to promise to replace it with a "secular, democratic state" covering all pre-1948 Palestine. Habash refused to go to the Palestinian territories, even though he was given clearance by Israel to travel there for a meeting in 1996. He believed that if he set foot in the territories he would be legitimizing the Oslo process.

In April 2000, Habash resigned from his post as leader of the PFLPAbu Ali Mustafa was nominated to be the General Secretary of the PFLP. Under his leadership, the Front turned to military struggle in the Israeli occupation, which included killing of innocents. The PFLP, led by Mustafa, was seeking to become the dominant political power, but at the same time Hamas gained popularity due to the bankruptcy of the old Palestinian elites. Israel, fighting the Palestinian armed militants after the eruption of the Second Intifada, identified Mustafa as a threat and assassinated him.

After the assassination, the PFLP decided to attack Israel in a series of military operations: In October 2001, the PFLP assassinated the Israeli Minister for Tourism, Rehavam Ze'evi, who was known as an ultra-nationalist hardliner within the Zionist movement. This assassination was initiated by Ahmad Sa'adat, who was elected to serve as General Secretary.

Sa'adat stands for a more radical position within the PFLP, encouraging the dismantling of Israel as a sovereign state, rejecting the Oslo Peace Process and demanding the right of return for all Palestinian refugees. He was imprisoned in Jericho by the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) in 2002, and in March 2006 Israeli forces attacked the jail and took Sa'adat to Israel; he is currently in Israeli custody.

At the end of the day, the PFLP will not have any possibility of advancing a secular and socialist program without breaking with nationalism and terrorism. The Front, along the Palestinian People's Party, can create an alternative to the rotten Fatah bourgeois elite and to the chauvinist-fundamentalist Hamas misleadership only by examining their past errors and looking for genuine socialist perspective. Together with socialists in the Fatah they can recreate the Palestinian Left by building a secular, democratic and socialist alternative.

An important factor in the process of building this party will also has to include a bitter accounting for the support delivered by Palestinian Communists, secularists and democrats to the Stalinist collectivist bureaucratic regime in the USSR. This is vital in order to build a party ruled by its rank-and-files comrades, a proletarian alternative which upholds socialism-from-below and true grassroots democracy – a democracy by the workers, for the workers.

In the struggle for domination, socialists will never be neutral when it comes to the fight between democrat secularists and nationalist chauvinists; there is always a need to side with the first when the leadership oppressed nation is divided between these parties. Lenin was always providing limited, critical support to the nationalist bourgeoisie of the oppressed nation, stating that no one should support a nationalist bourgeoisie who is leading an oppressed once she is acting only in the service of its own interests. Lenin argued:

The bourgeoisie, which naturally assumes the leadership at the start of every national movement, says that support for all national aspirations is practical. However, the proletariat’s policy in the national question (as in all others) supports the bourgeoisie only in a certain direction, but it never coincides with the bourgeoisie’s policy. The working class supports the bourgeoisie only in order to secure national peace (which the bourgeoisie cannot bring about completely and which can be achieved only with complete democracy), in order to secure equal rights and to create the best conditions for the class struggle. Therefore, it is in opposition to the practicality of the bourgeoisie that the proletarians advance their principles in the national question; they always give the bourgeoisie only conditional support (Lenin, The Right of Nations to Self-Determination, chapter 4, “Practicality” In the National Question).

The only way for the Palestinian Left to recover from its historical defeat is embodied in self-criticism and adoption of genuine Marxist policies. The Palestinian Left should be united around the demand 'Two Nations, Two States, Two Capitals in Jerusalem'. This democratic slogan can only challenge the peace-seekers and create a rift between nationalists and democrats within the two nations. In a reality of democracy and respect to basic human and civil rights, the workers' movement will be able to win hundreds of thousands of workers and youth and come out triumphant from the class struggle.

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